After seeing big lead slip, Woods tops Toms in final

SIX world-class players attempted to beat Tiger Woods at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Six world-class players were reminded how difficult he is to beat.

CLIFTON BROWN

SIX world-class players attempted to beat Tiger Woods at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Six world-class players were reminded how difficult he is to beat.

Tiger Woods of the US catches his ball which was tossed to him by his caddie on the 14th green during the final of the World Match Play Championships at La Costa Resort. Wood beat David Toms 2 and 1. — Pic. AFP-

During long periods of the five-day event, Woods looked dominant, making only six bogeys in 112 holes. At other times, he looked vulnerable, as on that Saturday, when he barely squeaked past Adam Scott and on that Sunday afternoon, when he almost squandered a 5-up lead, as a result of his own suspect putting and the determination of David Toms.

But how many times has Woods done whatever it takes to win? Add this performance to the file. Winning his second tournament in three starts this year, Woods defeated Toms, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final to capture this World Golf Championships event for the first time in four attempts.

It was a gruelling week for Woods, but he departed La Costa Resort and Spa $1.08 million richer, confident and healthy. And for his competitors, that is an ominous sign. The only other year Woods won two tournaments on the West Coast swing was 2000, when he won three major championships and won nine times on the PGA Tour.

Could Woods be gearing up for another dominant year? The signs are there.

"I'm starting to feel good, there's no doubt about it," said Woods, whose start this year was delayed by knee surgery in December. "I started putting the pieces together at the end of last year.

"I have more shots than I did last year," he said. "And on top of that, I'm feeling a lot better, which allows me to hit more shots. So the combination of the two makes me a better player than I was last year."

Remember in January, when Ernie Els won the PGA Tour's first two events and led Woods by more than $1.8 million on the money list? Woods has already passed Els, winning more than $2 million in three tournaments, and he is only about $51,000 behind the top money-winner, Mike Weir, who has also won twice this year. If not for a few bad shots at the Nissan Open, where he finished three shots behind Weir, Woods could be 3 for 3 this year. What does it mean to the world's other top players to see Woods start this way?

"When he plays good, he wins," Toms said. "We all know that."

But Toms, who battled food poisoning earlier in the tournament, did not roll over for Woods, despite being 4 down after the first 18 holes on that Sunday morning. When Woods began the afternoon round with a birdie at No. 1 to go 5-up, Toms knew he was being tested. And he responded.

"I'm not going to quit; that's not my nature," said Toms, who won the 2001 PGA Championship. "We're on national television. I don't want to get embarrassed."

Toms took advantage of a huge momentum swing at No. 2 in the afternoon. He made a 29-footer for a birdie, and Woods missed a 6-footer that could have halved the hole. Then Toms birdied the next hole and was only 3 down, with a glimmer of hope.

The short putt that Woods missed at No. 2 was only the beginning of his afternoon putting woes. He missed a 5-footer to lose No. 8, then 3-putted for another bogey at No. 9. Toms made the turn only 2 down, and the match turned tense.

On two occasions, Toms won a hole to go 1 down, the final time at No. 15, when he made a 12-footer for birdie. But after Woods and Toms each made par at No. 16, the match ended at the par-4 17th. Toms hit a bad drive into the right rough, and he was forced to try to hook the ball around trees on his next shot. The ball sailed left into deep rough, leaving Toms with a tough up-and-down.

Woods knew Toms was in trouble, but he still had work to do, having pulled his 7-iron approach shot at No. 17 into the left bunker.

"I was so hot at myself," Woods said. "He's over in the woods with no shot, and if I put the ball on the green, more than likely I win the match. Now I've got to get this thing up and down."

But Woods ended the match moments later. Toms' difficult pitch out of the deep rough came out too soft and landed just short of the green. Woods hit a solid bunker shot to 4 feet from the hole. After Toms failed to chip in, Woods made the putt, and another victory was his. And Woods may do a lot of winning this year.

"I expect to win every tournament I play in, because that's my level of expectation," Wood said. "If I show up at a tournament, that's my goal. I've accomplished that two out of three weeks."

The results ($6 million Match Play Championship, played at the 7,002-yard La Costa Resort): Tiger Woods, United States bt David Toms (6), United States, 2 and 1. Third place: Adam Scott (44), Australia bt Peter Lonard (31), Australia, 1 up.

New York Times News Service